Felix Hernandez Cy Young Watch: Wide open race for five pitchers
Our weekly tracking of Felix Hernandez's bid to win a second Cy Young Award:
Since we last compiled this feature, Felix Hernandez has thrown a perfect game and followed up with a wonderful performance during what amounted to an after party.
On Tuesday, before 39,204 fans wearing yellow "King Of Perfection" T-shirts to celebrate his perfect game, Hernandez threw 7 2/3 innings and allowed only one run -- and it took a bad hop for him to give up that -- against Cleveland as he improved to 12-5 with a 2.54 ERA.
He's inching even closer to the top of the American League Cy Young Award race, which has a new frontrunner this week. Let's take a look at how I see it.
Current leader: David Price, Tampa Bay
Price is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in four starts this month. He has allowed two earned runs and just 15 hits in his past 30 innings. He hasn't allowed a run in three of those starts. He should be 4-0 this month, but he received no-decisions in a pair of 1-0 Tampa Bay losses. That's a level of poor run support that only Hernandez can understand.
Stats: 16-4 with a 2.28 ERA, 167 strikeouts in 170 innings. Price leads AL starters in ERA and is tied for first in victories. He's fifth in innings pitched and sixth in strikeouts.
Those are definitely Cy-worthy numbers, but because of the strength of all the candidates, I wouldn't say Price is way ahead. Price, or any other candidate, is one bad start from being in good position to being on the outside. It's that close.
Ranking the other contenders
Top contender: Tie between Hernandez and Justin Verlander
Once again, the more you look at the stats of Hernandez and Verlander, the more they look like twins. They're the best two pitchers in the American League, and they have been that way for several years. Sometimes, it seems like they're trying to outdo each other. Hernandez, 26, won the 2010 Cy Young; Verlander, 29, won it last season and also earned league MVP honors. Both are eighth-year pitchers. Verlander has more career wins (119) than Hernandez (97). Hernandez has a better career ERA (3.16 to Verlander's 3.41).
The first to win a second Cy will have a huge chip in the "Who's better?" debate. And though neither is in actual competition with each other, they perform like they are. That's because they have the same standard of excellence.
Hernandez's 2012 stats: 12-5 with a 2.54 ERA, 179 strikeouts in 187 2/3 innings. King Felix ranks third in the AL in ERA and strikeouts, second in innings pitched and complete games (four) and first in shutouts (four).
Verlander's stats: 12-7 with a 2.50 ERA, 192 strikeouts in 190 2/3 innings. Verlander ranks second in the AL in ERA. He's first in innings pitched, strikeouts and complete games.
No. 3 contender: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
Weaver was in the top spot for several weeks, but after allowing nine earned runs to the Rays recently, he has dropped. It's more a sign of how close this race is than a knock on Weaver, who has had an incredible year.
Stats: 16-3 with a 2.74 ERA, 113 strikeouts in 148 innings. He leads the AL in WHIP at 0.980, is tied with Price at the top in victories and allows the fewest hits per nine innings (6.81).
Weaver's stint on the disabled list earlier this season has him roughly 40 innings pitched behind the workload Verlander and Hernandez. That terrible start against the Rays, which came after Hernandez threw his perfect game against Tampa Bay, rose Weaver's ERA by a half a run and took away a lot of the statistical advantages he had in this race. If not for that start, he'd still be the leader.
No. 4 contender: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
The 23-year-old lefty power pitcher continues to impress. If the White Sox weren't being careful with him because he's young and had an elbow issue earlier this season, he'd be even higher on the list.
Stats: 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA, 150 strikeouts in 153 innings. Sale ranks second in the AL in wins and fourth in ERA.
Description of Hernandez's current status: Surging
It's sprinting time in this Cy Young race, and there are plenty of candidates who can win with a great finishing kick. Sale is the outsider of the group, but he'll also be attempting to help the White Sox make the playoffs, so he'll have opportunities to impress. Price, Verlander and Weaver are also trying to do the same. Meanwhile, Hernandez and the Mariners are streaking, but they still have much work left if they want to slip back into the wild-card picture.
Will late-season games of consequence help decide this race? Possibly. But mostly we're wondering if any pitcher can separate from the pack. Price and Hernandez are making their push right now. Can they keep it up, or will another pitcher shine in September?
All of these guys probably have seven more starts. You have to think Hernandez and Verlander will be right there because they're so used to a heavy workload.
How long will King Felix stay on his perfect-game high? That could carry him through the rest of the season. He was already amid a long stretch of dominance before the perfecto.
Hernandez is 8-0 with a 1.53 ERA over his last 13 starts. The Mariners have a 10-3 record in those games. His current WHIP (1.044) is better than it was during his 2010 Cy year (1.057). Hernandez is as good as he's ever been.